1. Introduction and Current Status of Deviance Theory 1
2. Origins of the Field 3
Radical and Conflict Schools
3. Present State of the Field 12
4. Deviance and Social Order 13
Deviance as Disorder
Product of Normative System
Product of Social Control
Deviance as a Cause of Disorder
Deviance's Contribution to Social Order
Deviance as a Harbinger of Social Change
5. Delineation of Field of Deviance 17
6. Various Meanings of Deviant in Different Disciplines 21
7. Societal Conceptions of Deviance 25
The purpose of this book is to examine sociological perspectives of deviance. The
major contemporary theories of deviance are presented and relationships between the
theories are explored.
The current state of deviance theory reflects that of sociology generally--"a multitude
of parts and pieces that do not fit together very well"1. The field of deviance is disjointed:
1. It lacks a clearly defined territory. Disagreement exists both with respect to what
constitutes deviance and what is significant to study about deviance.
2. The concepts are often ambiguous.
3. The theories are not well articulated nor have they been adequately tested and
4. Large gaps exist in both theory and research.
5. Conflicting perspectives pull the field in different directions.
6. Research and theory tend to lack both an historical and cross-cultural perspective.
7. There is not an overall cumulative body of research and theory in deviance nor has
been sufficiently integrated into the mainstream of general sociological theory.
8. Contemporary sociological theory is characterized by a bewildering multitude of
paradigms that have different and often conflicting perspectives of the nature of
reality, society, and the sociological enterprise that pull the field in different
directions (Downes & Rock, 2003).
"If sociology is to advance significantly, it must evolve a progressively more general
conceptual scheme that is adequate to consolidate a group of special theories" (Merton,
l968:51). Currently the field is not unified but pulled in different directions by different
conceptions of deviance, alternative explanations of deviance and different problematical
concerns. This book hopes to stimulate exploration of the relationships between the various
theories of deviance, and between deviance theory and general sociological theory in order to
develop more coherence in the discipline.
The theories examined in this text deal with various conceptions, causes, and
consequences of deviance and direct attention to processes and structures in society that
contribute to or create deviance.
Different theories have arisen either because: (a) they were alternative explanations of
a specific form of deviance, (b) they were oriented toward explaining different facets of
deviance, or (c) they reflected different visions of the nature of society and deviance. The
theories included in this text were selected because they represented a major contemporary
theory in the field of deviance and because they dealt with different facets of the process of
deviance. It is hoped that this method of organizing the subject matter will highlight both the
gaps and conflicts in current theories of deviance.
Deviance theory has not developed as a cumulative endeavor, where each research
builds upon the prior research of others and theories are modified on the basis of empirical
findings so that there is a close correspondence between the state of research and theory.
Rather the theories, with some exceptions, were formed from the thought of one theorist
rather independent of research and other theories, though there are increasing efforts to
integrate theories and bodies of research (Kaplan and Johson:2001).
Conflicts develop among the various schools frequently based on stereotypes, which
are partial truths or over exaggerations.
Origins of the Field
The history of deviance theory is spotty, and which sociologists would be identified as
the "founding fathers" and what strains of influence would be traced would vary depending
on how the field of deviance was defined and the particular theoretical perspective from
which the history was written. Specific genealogy and precise boundaries do not exist within
a continually changing and emerging body of research and theory in the area of social
deviance. The history of deviance theory will continually be re-written as turns and new
directions are taken by the discipline2.
Social Organization: Nonetheless, where origins have been traced, it is generally agreed
that some of the earliest roots of the study of deviance can be traced to Durkheim's classic
study of suicide originally published a century ago (Durkheim, 1897:1951).
Durkheim's interest in suicide stemmed from his concern with the basis of social
cohesion in society. He viewed instances of suicide as manifestations of weakened cohesion
and believed that the suicide rate reflected the overall character and degree of social
integration in the society. Durkheim's integration of empirical data and theory remains a
model even today. However, his pioneering effort to examine the inter-relations between
deviance and social organization did not flourish in the early years of American sociology.
Durkheim (1938) also pioneered a second line of investigation into the positive
contributions of crime in establishing and maintaining both social order and cohesion in
society. This strain contributed to societal reaction or labeling theory and their focus on the
contributions of deviance to society.
Social pathology: Much of the popularity enjoyed by the field can be traced to a
second stream of influence, a long- standing concern of sociology with the ills of society. This
tradition shifted attention from the overall organization of society to a narrow focus on specific
behavior patterns such as alcoholism, divorce, or crime.
This school arose in the early 1900's with a perspective rooted in an "organic
analogy", which viewed society as analogous to a biological organism. "Pathologies" were
events or situations that interfered with the "normal" workings of the social organism.
Deviance was viewed as pathology or sickness of the society in much the same way disease
was regarded as a sickness in the human organism. Social pathologists quickly emerged as
"experts" in identifying and studying these ills.
This approach to the study of deviance had several limitations. The "normal
workings" of a social system were never specified, and, therefore, the criteria for specifying
what constituted "pathology" were never made explicit. The implicit criteria often
underlying what were defined as "ills", was behavior contrary to the values held by the social
Experts "drew upon their own sense of rightness...or took their cues from the social
reformers of the time and condemned poverty, crime, prostitution...as evils to be stamped
out" (Lemert, 1951:1).3
Mills (1943) stated that their similar rural and religious backgrounds gave them a
common perspective that shaped their definition of what constituted a problem such that the
mores behind their ideals were those of rural, small town, and middle America. Thus it was
natural for them to regard "urbanism" as alien and destructive to their cherished values of
residential stability, family solidarity, sobriety, and habituation to work (Lemert, l95l:l).
Sociology was not alone in its idealization of the small rural "folk" society, as an examination
of anthropology in that era will reveal (Edgerton, 1976:12-17). This influence is discernable
in current texts, which assert urbanism as a major cause of deviance (Clinard and Meier,
It was automatically assumed that deviance was harmful to society, a judgment that
considerably colored the character of their studies. Social pathologists were often reformists
oriented toward the amelioration of problems, a stance which also influenced the type of
research they undertook. Deviance was viewed in negative terms and accordingly
condemned. Whereas Durkheim examined the sometimes-positive effects of deviance in
sustaining social solidarity, social pathologists viewed deviance in wholly negative terms as
something to be controlled or eliminated.
This school's early preoccupation with the evils and ills of society manifested itself in
the direction of making moral pronouncements about deviance and its harmful effects on
society rather than documenting through research such effects or investigating the causes of
deviance. Research was divorced from sociological theory and was largely based on common
sense understandings of immoral behavior. Little effort was directed towards the
explanation of deviant behavior, or to the testing and the verification of specific hypothesis
about deviance. Studies were of a "fact gathering" or statistical nature investigating the
prevalence of a particular form of deviant behavior, or were case studies that illustrated the
harmful or undesirable aspects of deviance.
Thus studies were more descriptive than analytical and relied on official records and
statistics that were accepted uncritically. When explanations were offered, "explanations of
the pathological conditions were often ad hoc in character" (Gibbons and Jones, 1975:15)
and rarely tied to the general features of society. Such studies as were conducted were tied to
social policy questions or concerns of governmental agencies for information to more
effectively control deviance.
Consequently, the studies, as Mills (1943) points out, were arrested at low levels of
conceptualization. The understanding and study of deviance was shaped by the prevailing
moralities of the time by sociologists as well as laymen. Deviance was viewed as an isolated
phenomenon, generally unrelated either to the character of society or ongoing social
When explanations were sought, it was tacitly assumed they could be traced to other
"ills" in the society, such as the lack of education, adequate housing or poverty.
C. Wright Mills (1943) describes textbooks of that era:
The level of abstraction which characterizes these texts is so low that often they seem to
be empirically confused for lack of abstraction to knit them together. They display bodies of
meagerly connected facts, ranging from rape in rural districts to public housing, and
intellectually sanction this low level of abstraction. The "informational" character of social
psychology is linked with a failure to consider total social structures. Collecting and dealing
in a fragmentary way with scattered problems and facts of milieux, these books are not
focused on larger stratifications or upon structured wholes....
But even though the perspective of these texts are not usually explicit, the facts selected
for treatment are not "random"...The direction is towards particular practical problems,
problems of everyday life. One pervasive way of defining problems or of detecting
"disorganization" is in terms of deviation from norms...the norms so used are usually held to
be standards of "society"...There are few attempts to explain deviations from norms in terms
of the norms themselves. In another form the political is tacitly identified with the proper
functioning of the current and unexamined political order; it is especially likely to be
identified with a legal process or the administration of the laws.
The preoccupation with "problems" blinded these sociologists to the larger structures
of society and their small town origins, conservative political bias, and reformist orientations
made them seek piecemeal rather than structural solutions. The social pathologist's
perspective dominated the study of deviance for almost thirty years and some of its legacy
Social Problems: The social pathologist perspective was replaced in popularity in the
l940's by the "social problems" approach, which abandoned the organismic analogy and the
metaphors associated with it. Nonetheless, in many regards, the approaches were basically
similar. The subject matter was confined to the study of problems rather than the overall
organization of the society. Sometimes "experts" continued to define what were "problems"
in much the same fashion that social pathologists defined "ills". A second approach emerged
within this school where the "perspectives of members" of the society was taken as the
defining perspective of what was regarded as "problems" (see Fuller and Myers, 1941). In
this approach, sociologists were not to intrude their values in the specification of problems,
but were to rely solely upon member evaluations. Deviance was an important concern, but
"social problems" extended beyond deviance to divorce, poverty, and soil erosion, and
excluded norm violations that failed to arouse the concern of the community.
Similar to social pathologists, the criteria for identifying a "problem" were also not
made explicit and tended to be simply moralistic judgments made from either the perspective
of the sociologist-expert or from the value perspective of dominant groups in the society.
Situations, which were regarded as problematic by either group, were ipso facto social
When members’ perspectives served as the reference point for identifying problems, it
was frequently only the value perspective of the dominant groups in society that served to
define what was problematic. Sociological theory was then directed to those areas, and
focused on why the problematic situations arose. The question of how and why certain
situations came to be regarded as a problem received little attention. The influence of
dominant groups on the mass media or governmental agencies, which act as "official"
defining agencies and shape what members in the society define as problems, went largely
unnoticed by sociologists. Even today such groups remain a powerful, but largely
unexamined influence on what is regarded as problematic by sociologists. Governmental
agencies and private foundations fund much of the research conducted by sociologists, and
they are the ones who define crime, delinquency, mental illness, addiction, or alcoholism as
"problems" to study.
Furthermore, no distinctive body of theory was associated with the social problems
school in the analysis of the causes of deviance4, although their explanations of social
problems drew heavily from "social disorganization theory.
Social Disorganization: This perspective took root in sociology around the 1920's and
was more global in its focus, looking at the malfunctioning of the community as an
explanation for both social problems and deviance. What constituted "disorganization"
varied by theorist, but such factors as the degree of integration, stability, or the adaptive
character of the social system were focused upon as aspects of disorganization and the cause
of deviant behavior.
A lack of coordination among the parts of a system reflected "disorganization."
"Organization" referred to the patterned and mutually supplementary character of social
behavior. The failure of the social system to effectively regulate and coordinate behavior
through its system of norms and supporting sanctions evidenced disorganization.
Factors believed to cause disorganization were social change, immigration,
industrialization, and urbanization, all of which increased the difficulty of coordination and
regulation of behavior as traditions and norms no longer adequately guided behavior. A
breakdown or weakening of social controls received attention in this tradition.
Deviance was viewed as a result of the breakdown in the social rules that govern
behavior, but could also occur without disorganization as disorganization could be present
Ecological studies linked mental illness to social isolation (Faris and Dunham: 1939)
and delinquency (Shaw and McKay: 1942) to slum areas. Certain sectors of cities were
characterized by social isolation, poverty, overcrowding, broken institutions, culture
heterogeneity, etc. which led to a breakdown of the normative consensus and the social fabric
characterized as disorganization. Both impairments in the system of rules and in the system
of social controls were manifestations of disorganization. This approach has been
characterized as the Chicago School as many sociologists were associated with the University
The concept of "disorganization" was also not clearly formulated, and in many cases
tended to reflect value judgments by sociologists rather than objectively determinable states
of societal functioning.
By the end of World War II, Merton's (1938) theory of Anomie emerged as one of the
most influential and widely cited theories. The theory of Anomie was oriented specifically
towards explaining deviant behavior. Merton linked the frequency of deviant behavior in a
group to the degree to which the social structure impaired access to desired social goals.
Disorganization was caused by the mal-integration of goals and means. The distribution of
deviant behavior in the population was related to the differential access to social goals.
Anomie theory became a dominant perspective especially as it was later conjoined with sub-
cultural theories of deviance found in the work of Cohen (1955) and Cloward and Ohlin
(1960). This theory clearly fed back into the stream pioneered by Durkheim, and thought
was once again diverted toward the inter-relationship between deviance and social
The Chicago School: A fifth stream of influence on deviance theory can be traced to
the 1930's and the Chicago School. Two traditions were associated with this school. One was
grounded in disorganization theory and mapped the distribution of deviance in the
community linking rates of deviance to areas of social disorganization in the community. A
second tradition was characterized by an ethnographic orientation toward studying social life
that resulted in a number of descriptive studies that were rich in detail about the lives of
deviants. These accounts of deviance often included the perspective of the deviants. Thus
deviance was not studied primarily from the vantage point of officials or dominant groups in
society, as tended to characterize the social pathology and social problems approach. This
school evidenced a more accepting attitude toward deviants than was characteristic of other
approaches and attention and credibility was given to the perspective and life styles of
deviants. These studies, however, generally lacked a theoretical orientation. This second
tradition emerged into what is described as labeling theory.
Labeling Theory: The Chicago tradition gave birth to labeling theory, which came to
prominence in the 1960's. This tradition is rooted in the work of Tannenbaum (1951) and
Lemert (1951) and more recently in the works of Becker (1963), Goffman (1963) and Scheff
(1966) among others. The primary focus of attention of this perspective is upon social
definitions of deviance and societal reaction to deviance. These processes were studied in their
own right and as contributory factors to deviant behavior. This approach has been variously
identified as "societal reaction" theory, "labeling" theory, and the "interactionist"
perspective (Rubington and Weinberg: 1973). It emphasizes: (a) societal definitions and
reactions to deviance, (b) the labeling process, and (c) the social role and career of the
deviant. The primary focus of this approach is on societal reaction to deviant behavior, in
that it is not deviant unless reacted to negatively by others. It is currently popular among
sociologists though its influence is waning. It has resulted in some redefinition of the central
concepts in the study of deviance and a shift in the focus of attention from the causes of
deviant behavior to societal reaction to deviant behavior. It is also identified as social
This orientation shifted attention from the harms of deviance to society to the harmful
consequences of official control and labeling on the lives of individuals who are designated as
deviants by society. The emergence of this perspective also served to raise questions about
value positions, which are implicit in particular ways of conceptualizing and studying
deviance by incorporating the perspectives of deviants. It tended to focus on the fluid and
less deterministic nature of social interaction and social processes rather than on social
structure and stricter determinism characteristic of functional approaches.
Radical and Conflict Theory: This stream of influence can be traced to Marx's work
in the 1890's. It has not enjoyed the popularity of other approaches in America, and its
influence has been primarily centered in criminology dating back to the 1930's with Bonger's
(1916) work. A renaissance of interest in conflict and radical theory occurred in the late
1960's stimulated by the social unrest of the times and the failure of functional perspectives to
account for the social upheavals. Its influence has been growing steadily in the United States
particularly in criminology, and is reflected in the work of Taylor, Walton and Young (1973),
Quinney (1977), Chambliss (1976), Platt (1978), among others.
Radical theorists see the very definition of "deviance" as reflecting the perspectives of
elites who control the power structures in society and view the creation of deviance as a
power struggle between various factions and conflicting interests in society. Laws both
embody the interests of ruling classes and are selectively applied to sustain their privilege and
power in the existing social order.
Radical theorists believe deviance can only be understood in relation to the character
of the total society. Crime is viewed as an inevitable consequence of the social organization of
society, and the root causes of crime are traced to the master economic and political
institutions in the society. The role of power in the creation of definitions of undesirable
behavior, in influencing societal reaction, and in creating opportunities to obtain social
rewards, plays a central role in the conflict and radical approaches to the study of deviance.
Both the conflict and radical approaches do not ask whether deviance is harmful or
helpful to "society", but ask instead, whose interests in the society are served by the existing
or proposed arrangements. Although some argue the crimes of elites are criminal, whether
or not they are prohibited by law or reacted to by others, as they violate basic human rights.
This reflects an absolutist notion of deviance rather than the social constructionist one of
A limitation of this approach is that its application to the study of deviance has not
been well developed. There is a lack of specification of both hypotheses and relevant
variables with respect to explaining deviance and an absence of supporting empirical
research and adequate testing of their theories.
Other Tributaries: Other influences are increasingly discernible on the study of
deviance including critical theory, feminist theory, ethnomethodology, phenomenology, and
post modernism. It is too early to assess the impact of these approaches on the overall
development of deviance theory. What is clear is that any impact from these approaches or
others will redirect the discipline in new and perhaps unanticipated areas.
Recently voices have been raised about the viability of the field of deviance itself as a
special area of study, and some have pronounced it’s demise and written it’s obituary
(Sumner:1994) while others (Goode:2003) affirm its vitality and continuing importance.
Present State of the Field
Unfortunately these streams of influence have not flowed into a singular torrent of
thought from which has evolved a cumulative body of knowledge with a progressive
refinement of concepts, measurement procedures, and findings. More replication of studies
and reformulation of theories based upon empirical research are needed. There is a paucity
of an elaborated body of knowledge based upon substantiated research findings, which has
evolved to date in the area of social deviance. In limited areas glimmers of this emerging.
Instead the field has been characterized by a shifting focus of attention and a
continual redefinition of subject matter. This has resulted in a change in the sociologist's
conception of what constitutes "deviance" as well as what is important to ascertain about
These streams of influence have contributed to shaping the character of the study of
deviance and evolving it as a special field in American sociology. Historically, there has been
a shift in attention from discovering causes of non-conforming behavior and identifying
characteristics of norm violators to a concern with societal reaction to deviance and the
impact of labeling persons as deviant. New concerns are being raised by conflict and radical
theorists, which may redirect interest to the political character of deviance, its relation to the
total society, and its specific linkages to economic and political institutions. Thus new
questions, concerns, and perspectives continually arise to change the character of the study of
deviance in American sociology. Changing social conditions in the United States have also
played a role in shaping the study of deviance as the crises and conflicts in the late 1960's
brought conflict and radical perspectives into prominence.
Presently, the field is in need of more systematic treatment of various issues,
perspectives, theories, and empirical research than currently exists. The horizons of the field
need to be extended to encompass both historical development and cross-cultural studies. In
addition, a rapprochement between deviance theory and the larger body of general
sociological theory needs to be advanced. The problem of deviance and non-conformity and
the question that has concerned the central figures of sociology since its inception of "why
order exists in society," are really two sides of the same coin.
Deviance and Social Order
Another stream of influence on deviance theory from general sociological theory has
been the long-standing concern of sociologists with the question of why order exists in social
life. Some sociologists view the "problem of order" as the most important facing the
discipline of sociology. Differing views of the relationship between deviance and social order
A. Deviance as Disorder: Some sociologists see order as the "natural" state of society,
and view deviance as a sign, symptom, or consequence of disorder or disorganization.
Conformity is viewed as typical and natural to a smoothly functioning society. Deviance is
viewed as troublesome, disruptive and harmful behavior. According to this perspective,
persons orienting their actions to common norms and values create social order.
Disorder or deviance can be brought about in several ways:
1. Disorder is a product of the Normative System. If order is a result of shared norms
then deviance can be traced to a problem in the normative system in the society. Durkheim,
for example, believed egoistic suicide resulted from the breakdown of cohesion in society. A
weak system of norms was the singular force responsible for diminished cohesion in society.
The extent to which norms: (a) were commonly held, (b) pervasive, and (c) the degree to
which they regulated conduct, were the critical dimensions of their ability to produce social
cohesion as well as order. Thus the cause of deviance (disorder) was rooted in the breakdown
and diversity of social norms. Functionalism, with its central concern with social order and
its belief in the importance of social norms in creating social order, is sometimes referred to
as the Normative Paradigm.
2. Disorder is a product of the Breakdown of Social Controls. A second approach
also views deviance as disorder, but resulting from a failure in social control processes, rather
than a breakdown in the system of norms. Social order is achieved through socialization,
whereby individuals internalize social definitions and values as well as the desire to conform
to other's expectations. A failure to adequately instill social values can create deviance.
Society also relies upon a system of sanctions external to the individual to control behavior, so
that order is also obtained by effective social control mechanisms. This view presupposes
that persons are malleable creatures who can, under normal conditions, be infused with
social values and shaped to respond to social sanctions. Personality is the subjective aspect of
culture, and if persons deviate from the norms, the fault lies in the society and its mechanisms
of social control.
Freud, Hobbes, and others have argued that individuals are not “tablas rosas” or
blank slates who can be totally socialized but instead are capable of acting independent of
societal definitions on impulses not socially derived. And if the individual's basic natures are
not sufficiently restrained through mechanisms of social control, deviance will result.5
Some of the factors emphasized in the social control approach are: (a) internalization
of norms, (b) sensitization to other group member's expectations, (c) the exercise of self
control, and (d) external formal and informal sanctions, Sociologist have focused on the inter-
relation of internal and external controls, and labeling theorists on informal social
condemnation and formal institutions of social control. Thus deviance is believed to result
from a failure in internal or external controls, and its very presence in society reflects these
weakened social controls. Society's insufficient presence in the individual, the failure of
social control processes or the inherent difficulty in gaining total control over an individual's
behavior, result in disorder or deviance in society.
Whereas the first approach focuses on the system of norms and beliefs as the main
cause of deviance, the second focuses on the system of social arrangements which sustain or
enforce the specific norms, such as socialization (building internalized motivation to conform)
and external controls which fail to adequately regulate individual conduct, as the major cause
Labeling theorists argue deviance is created by the very process of societal reaction
and social control whereby individuals are condemned by others and sometimes sanction by
formal agencies of social control to bring peoples behavior in line with group expectations
B. Deviance as a Cause of Disorder: Rather than viewing deviance as a product of a
malfunctioning normative system or ineffective social control mechanisms, this view examines
the consequences of deviance for breaking down social order.
Deviance, i.e., behavior that fails to conform to social expectations, is believed to
weaken the underlying basis of all social order. This occurs because social order is based, in
part, on the assumption that individuals will conform to social rules because of assurance that
others will also conform to the rules. Under the principle of reciprocity, an individual's non-
compliance cancels other's obligations to conform and weakens the tacit understandings
upon which social order is based. In this analysis, the causal order is reversed. Deviance
weakens the social order rather than a weakened social order causing deviance. Though both
arguments could be joined in a mutual influence process whereby a weakened social order
causes deviance, which, in turn, lessens other's commitment to social order, further
increasing the likelihood of more non-conforming behavior.
C. Deviance as a Contributor to Social Order: In both Durkheim's (1938) and
Erikson's (1962) work, deviance is regarded as necessary to achieve social order. Deviance, it
is argued, defines the contours of morality and acceptable behavior within a society, thus
insuring predictability in social life and making social order possible. The setting aside and
public punishment of individuals defined as deviants affirms the rightness of group norms,
defines moral boundaries, and increases social solidarity by uniting the group against the
transgressor. Deviance needs to be created by the group to establish the boundaries of
acceptable behavior, to strengthen the norms, and unify the group against transgressions.
The group accomplishes this by continually redefining unacceptable behavior until some
individual's behavior falls into the domain of public censure. The very processes of social
control create order and cohesion in society as deviance is essential for maintaining a healthy
society. The relationship between order and deviance is a complex and multi-dimensional
D. Deviance As a Forerunner of Social Change: Deviance is also viewed as a necessary
antecedent to social change. In order for new norms to emerge, old norms must be violated.
Temporary disorder is a transitional stage to social change. The deviance of today may lead
the way to the conforming behavior of tomorrow. Without transgression of norms, society
would be static and rigid, no longer able to adapt to new and changing conditions. Deviance,
from this viewpoint permits social change and paves the way for the new and emerging social
order and insures flexibility in the society.
The perhaps contradictory relationships between deviance and social order have
never been reconciled in sociological theory. The lack of relevant research and specifications
of the conditions under which these relationships hold true, has permitted the situation to
stand as it has for many years.
However the relationship between deviance and social order is conceived, there is an
intimate connection between the two concerns in sociology. Theories of social order and
social organization can form the basis for understanding deviance, and the study of deviance
can serve to illuminate the process of social order.
It should be clear that deviance theory (a theoretical concern with the nature, causes,
and consequences of deviance) could not be divorced from theories of social organization and
the more general question of why persons conform to social norms. Deviance cannot be
explained without reference to more general understandings of the nature of humans, society,
and inter-relationships between the individual and society. Yet despite this obvious
connection, the implications for understanding deviance have not been sufficiently explored
by general theorists, nor have deviance theorists fully examined the implications of their
theories for what they imply about the nature of individuals, conformity, and the
inter-relationship between the individual and society.
Delineation of the Field of Deviance
The field of deviance is disjointed and somewhat confused as to its subject matter and
approach to explaining social behavior. This is due to the absence of any viable, much less
specific, formulation of the concept of "deviance".
The need for conceptual clarification can be seen from a cursory examination of
chapter headings of leading textbooks in the field. The topics treated under the heading of
"deviant behavior" range from crime, mental illness and suicide to divorce, old age, poverty
and war. C. Wright Mill's (1943) criticism still holds good today.
Further confusion is added by the multitude of books in other disciplines, which deal
with the same topics. Textbooks in abnormal psychology apply the concept of deviance to
neurosis, psychosis, and mental retardation. Poverty is dealt with in economic treatises, and
war, segregation and racism are dealt with in political science treatises.
What, if anything, do these phenomena have in common that allow them to be labeled
as "deviance"? A definition must somehow imply a rule for the application of the label. Yet
it is not obvious what criteria the authors have explicitly or implicitly employed in their use of
the concept of "deviance". How can such a vast array of phenomena be treated in any
coherent way, much less by a single discipline? This problem faces the field of deviance
One reason for this confusion is that "deviant" is primarily a layman's concept which
has been taken over by sociologists without a careful scrutiny or specification of its meaning.
Therefore, it lacks the precision of a scientific concept. Studies have shown that an enormous
range of behavior is included under the layman's concept of deviance (Simmons, 1969). And
if historical and cross-cultural comparisons are made, almost every conceivable type of
behavior at one time or another has been considered deviant. The lack of specificity exists for
scholars as well as layman.
Different Meanings of "Deviant"
By examining a variety of books dealing with deviant behavior, it is possible to
identify at least three distinct frameworks for conceptualizing deviant behavior in just the
disciplines of psychology, statistics, and sociology.6
1. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK
The basic dimension cross-cutting this framework is that of
"normality--abnormality". "Deviance" is equated with "abnormality" and "conformity"
with "normality." This view generally reflects a conservative bias towards social conformity
and usually implies, implicitly or explicitly, that psychological abnormality is the cause of
Two aspects of this framework influence the study of deviance: its conceptualization
of deviance as "abnormal", and its position regarding psychological abnormality as the cause
The theories usually imply that deviance is the result of some particular
malfunctioning within the individual's personality, and that deviance is evidence of the
presence of disease or psychopathology. The cause of deviance is consequently sought within
the individual, frequently in the individual's personality or character. Psychoanalytic
theories locate the source of deviance in personality psychopathology traceable to
disturbances in early family relationships. Deviant acts are conceptualized as resolutions of
internal psychic conflicts or the result of inadequately developed personalities.
In the U.S., a "mental health--mental illness" model has emerged where deviance is
believed caused by some form of mental illness within the individual and psychiatric
treatment is proposed as a remedy to deviance. Alcoholism, addiction, lack of attention,
depression, anxiety and shyness are now regarded as diseases. American society has
elaborated the concept of "mental illness" to account for unusual or unacceptable behavior.
While every society develops its own explanation of deviant behavior, such explanations must
be acknowledged as products of the culture from which they arise, and not accepted
uncritically. Ways of explaining behavior evolve from the value system prevalent in the
society and are couched in terms of acceptable "rhetorics of motives" in that culture, that is,
what constitutes a socially acceptable explanation of behavior in that society for atypical or
socially unacceptable behavior. Explanations, which locate the source of socially disapproved
behavior within the individual, serve to preserve the status quo in society since the existing
social order is not examined. Thus the perspective focuses attention on the makeup of the
deviant while ignoring or at least de-emphasizing the influence of the social context on
behavior. The increasing acceptance of "mental illness" as a way to explain such diverse
behavior as gambling, lack of attention, shyness, etc. and a belief that persons who engage in
such behavior are not “normal”, has lead to an increasing involvement of mental health
professions in aspects of deviance control.
There is a danger in this perspective of circular reasoning. When it is asserted, for
example, that mental illness causes suicide, and the proof rests on the argument that anyone
who commits suicide must be mentally ill as it is an abnormal or irrational act--then the
assertion becomes tautological. The circular reasoning comes from defining the act as prima
facie evidence of mental illness, and then using the concept of mental illness to explain the act.
Unless there is an independent determination of mental illness apart from the act of suicide,
the proposition is not subject to disproof.
A range of theories can be found within the psychological framework and problems of
this approach will be discussed in the chapter on mental illness. This approach has had an
influence on social scientist's view of deviance as they are exposed to the same cultural
influences as other members of society. Whether a theory becomes accepted or appears to
make "good sense" is a function of how compatible it is with other taken for granted
assumptions about human behavior within that culture.
2. THE STATISTICAL FRAMEWORK
Deviance, within this perspective, is viewed in statistical terms as departures from the
"mode" or "average" and thus the critical axis of this framework is a
"frequency--infrequency" dimension. Deviance is assessed by the use of statistical means
whereby the distribution of behaviors within a population is examined, and then the specific
behavior is located in relation to its relative frequency in the population. Anything that
differs from what is most common would be regarded as "deviant". Deviance, then, is
associated with rarity of occurrence, while frequent events are "normal" ones.
No value judgment or stigma is placed on the behavior, which is regarded as deviant,
and therefore both a genius and an imbecile would be regarded as deviant since their scores
on IQ tests represent radical departures from the mode or average. An event's statistical
frequency is determined on the basis of a specific population at a particular point in time.
The dividing lines, however, between "frequent" and "infrequent" are arbitrary.
The advantages of this approach are not obvious. What general conclusions can be
drawn about "atypical" behavior patterns is not specified? It appears that only limited
generalization would be possible on the basis of the statistical frequency of behavior. Persons
who violate infrequently violated social norms would be lumped in the same category as
persons who engage in infrequent, yet socially acceptable behavior. This has led some
sociologists to describe positive deviants (Heckert: 1996). What these persons would share in
common is the a-typicality of their behavior patterns. There are no criteria for focusing on
some behavior patterns rather than others, and, therefore, the total spectrum of human
behavior constitutes the subject matter for discourse. In addition, this framework does not
make apparent the relationship, if any, between the social meaning of behavior and its
statistical occurrence in the population. Sometimes uniformity of behavior implies the
existence of social norms, and thus atypical behavior may reflect non-conforming behavior,
but this is not always the case.
Behavior distributed along a normal curve
3. THE SOCIOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK
There is diversity within sociological thought so that no single framework could be
identified as "the" sociological framework. Important differences in definitions of "deviant"
exist within sociology and will be discussed later. For purposes of comparison, however, the
primary concept employed by functional sociologists is a norm-violation conception of
deviance. The underlying dimension of this framework is that of
"conformity--non-conformity". "Moral" norms are cultural proscriptions for behavior and
refer to what persons in the group "should" or "ought" to do. "Statistical" norms describe
what people actually do. Thus deviance in this perspective refers to behavior, which departs
from the normative expectations and is equated with "non-conformity". Nothing is implied
about either the normality of the individual, as in the psychological framework, or the
frequency of the act, as in the statistical framework. Rule violating behavior constitutes
Once departures from the norms are taken as the frame of reference, and no
pre-judgments are made about the normality of the individual, the causes of non-conforming
behavior can be empirically investigated. The origins of non-conforming behavior are
diverse. The causes of any specific type of non-conforming behavior must not be determined
by armchair speculation or prejudgment, but only by careful empirical research.
This approach to the study of deviance is culturally relative as non-conformity can
only be conceived of from the reference point of a particular norm or group perspective. The
normative structure provides one general orientation from which a sociological perspective of
deviance can be developed. The observations made by sociologists employing this
perspective, the concepts utilized and theories proposed, will be related to the particular
normative structure as a reference point.
Many sociologists however do not accept this framework, as there is considerable
disagreement among sociologists as to the most adequate framework and concepts to be
employed in the study of deviance. Labeling theorists assert what the norm is can only be
determined by how it is applied in particular situations and to specific persons. This can only
be determined by the reactions of the group members. The norm is only revealed by whom is
sanctioned or labeled. These differing viewpoints will be discussed shortly.
Relationships Between Frameworks
The same concept, "deviance", has a different meaning within each of the three
frameworks. This has contributed to considerable confusion, ambiguity and contradiction in
the use of this concept.
To illustrate the conflicts entailed in using different frameworks for conceptualizing
deviance, let us look at one example. Until 1965, Oklahoma prohibited the consumption of
alcohol. Thus in terms of the legal norms, anyone who drank during that era was a deviant.
Yet, within the state, fully 70% of the residents violated this particular norm. In this
example, if deviance were defined in legal terms as a departure from legal norms, then a
majority of the residents were engaging in deviant behavior. Statistically, however, the
non-drinking population would be the deviants. Sociologists have discovered situations
where most persons violate the norms, unbeknownst to one another, and have labeled this
situation as "pluralistic ignorance7”. This highlights the disparities between sociological and
statistical models of deviance. A similar critique can be leveled at the psychological
framework, for there is no reason to assume that norm violators, drinkers in this case, are
abnormal merely because they have violated legal codes. Nearly everyone in the population
engaged in this behavior. Should they all be regarded as abnormal? Thus the frameworks
differ in "who" would be described as deviant.
The above example is illustrative of the fact that the same concept has different
meanings. In principle, these dimensions are independent of one another. They are separate
ways of looking at human behavior. The three frameworks can be viewed as continuum along
which specific observations can be compared.
Frameworks for Defining Deviance
Normality (Health) Abnormality (Illness)
Once these frameworks are distinguished, misunderstandings can be avoided, and
more fruitful questions posed. For example, how much non-conformity can a norm
withstand before it is weakened or altered? Will norms about premarital sex change as
individuals increasingly deviate from them? Or do violations have to become public
knowledge, a part of the shared understandings before changes will occur? Kinsey's book
served to make the public aware of the discrepancy between the norms and actual sexual
behavior. Public awareness of the discrepancy may have led to significant changes in the
norms rather than the rate of norm violating behavior per se. Provocative behavior on
websites such as Myspace or Facebook which attract many hits may have immediate impacts
on what is acceptable to young people.
Another factor to be considered is that there can be important differences in the types
of norms involved in a situation. In Oklahoma, legal codes may not have been congruent
with social norms. Legal codes sometimes reflect only the views of those who control the
political machinery, a small and not always representative sample of individuals.
It must also be kept in mind that non-conformity is defined only with respect to a
specific norm and is not a generalized attribute of all the individuals’ behavior. Criminals
might exhibit conventionality is most aspects of their behavior.
These frameworks have been employed by different investigators without carefully
distinguishing between them leading to seemingly contradictory conclusions. The choice of
framework may influence both the selection of certain problems and the types of explanations
as assumptions about human nature often are unrecognized baggage of the framework.
Societal Conceptions of Deviance
Every society also evolves its own conceptions and ways of thinking about deviance. A
plethora of such folk myths, within which deviance is interpreted or understood, exists in all
The concept of deviance is basically a layman's term, and has been incorporated from
its use in the wider society to sociology without careful examination or study of the concept.
It is not clear whether this term, which has evolved in the United States, is identical to
presumed analogous terms in other societies. This is not just to state that the behaviors,
which are regarded as deviant may differ between societies, but also to suggest that the very
concept of deviance may involve different constituent elements and meanings in different
societies in different historical periods. In addition, as noted earlier, there is an extensive
range of behaviors encompassed by this label even within the United States. Furthermore,
there is probably variability in not only the application of this label but in the very meaning
of the term between various groups within this society. Class, age, regional, sexual, and
ethnic differences have been noted in use of words in American society. Therefore, more
empirical study of the meaning of this term must be undertaken before it can be defined more
rigorously even within one culture. Different schools within sociology have arisen partly
because they have focused on different aspects of the definition of "deviant".
The explanations that are offered for deviance are generally consistent with the value
system of the culture as most cultural myths legitimate social institutions. The explanations
are couched in the same terms in which motivation is generally understood within that
culture. In every society there exists accepted reasons why people do the things they do or
"rhetorics of motives". These constitute the rules for understanding behavior within that
culture. Some societies invoke demons or evil spirits who take possession of individuals and
cause them to deviate from social norms. Other societies may locate the cause of behavior in
the movement of the stars, deep inside the body, in the psyche, in the experience of the
individual or in their social environment or circumstances. Usually motives for conforming
are regarded as different from motives for non-conforming behavior, and deviants are
viewed as essentially different kinds of persons or persons subject to different kinds of
influences than conforming members.
In American society there are competing rhetorics for interpreting non-conforming
behavior. A husband who drinks too much can be regarded as "sinful" within a religious
framework, as "weak" within a common sense understanding, as "criminal" within a legal
framework and as "mentally ill" within a psychiatric framework. In the United States the
"medicalization of deviance" is occurring in numerous areas; alcoholic or suicidal behavior,
delinquency or unusual sexual behavior tend to be regarded as "sick" behavior and the
person in need of psychiatric care.
Viewing troublesome behavior in this fashion, as a psychiatric or "medical" problem,
has resulted in certain institutional patterns and roles being invoked. The "medical model"
invokes concepts of "sickness", "treatment", and "doctors" and "nurses" "who treat" this
behavior in "hospitals" with "medicine" and cast persons into the role of "patient" who have
"diseases" and "prognoses. This way of approaching the problem prejudges the causes of
troublesome behavior and restricts the response to an already institutionalized pattern that
may not be appropriate to the particular problems involved.
This type of interpretation is, of course, like all myths, consistent with American
traditions of "rugged individualism" which sees problems as things within individuals and
interprets behavior in an individualistic way. Explanations that locate the cause of
disapproved behavior as some malfunction within the individual serve to maintain the status
quo by preventing either the social order or the criteria by which members are judged from
ever being questioned. This method of interpreting behavior allows members to sustain a
Cognizance must be paid to these everyday conceptions because they usually find their
way into scholarly or scientific accounts of deviance. In fact, the interest of scientists in the
problems of deviance often is propelled by community concern. After all sociologists are also
members of the society, and accordingly are likely to be influenced by the prevailing
mythology, as are other members of the society. These explanations, however, must be
acknowledged as products of the culture from which they arise and not accepted uncritically,
anymore than one would accept explanations from some other cultures which indict evil
spirits, witchcraft, or the stars, as causes of deviance. The society's notions of human nature
and its conceptions of motivations are of great interest to sociologists, but are little studied.
How the society defines and accounts for non-conformity or deviance is not only a neglected
problem, but also a very important one for sociology. Why the concept of "mental illness" is
used in one society and "witchcraft" in another to account for troublesome behavior is not
altogether clear. We have little information about the conditions, which influence societal
definitions of deviance.
The prevailing societal folklore about deviance influences deviants as well as social
scientists. Indeed, deviants are often likely to interpret their behavior from such perspectives.
Studies that rely upon the explanations offered by deviants for their behavior are likely to
get confirmation of existing cultural myths about deviance. This process is a self-confirming
one. Delinquents institutionalized in correctional institutions with "psychiatric" orientations
internalize the rhetoric and replace the standard question of "what are you in for?"
addressed to new inmates with "what is your problem?" Deviants can also fight cultural
labeling. Inmates frequently resent psychiatric treatment, stating they are not crazy, just
dishonest! Homosexuals fought to change existing psychiatric classification of homosexuality
Everyday or lay conceptions of deviance serve as the basis of some sociological
perspectives of deviance. Labeling theory, for example, adopts the group's definitions of
members as the critical factor in determining deviance.
In addition to the different meanings of "deviance" found among disciplines and in
everyday life, there are numerous schools of thought within sociology with respect to not only
what constitutes "deviance", but its specific causes. These differences in sociology are of a
deep magnitude and often flow from fundamental differences in various sociologists’
conception of the nature of humans and social life, as well as the nature of the sociological
enterprise itself. In order to examine the factors that give rise to disagreement and disparity
in deviance theory today, it is necessary to examine the roots of thought which are lodged in
somewhat different paradigms and meta theoretical assumptions which have powerful, but
usually unexamined influences on the sociologist's perspective of deviance. Since these
paradigms give rise to different perspectives of deviance, and are at the root of much conflict
within the discipline, it is necessary to examine these paradigms in some detail, so the fruit
they bear can be seen as the logical outcome of philosophical positions and assumptions
which differ among the paradigms.
Historical Foundations of Approaches to Deviance
There has been a vast array of explanations of deviant behavior over the course of
history. The earliest were supernatural explanations which have been replaced in the last
few hundred years by scientific explanations. Historically, the causes for deviant behavior
have been sought in such diverse sources as: the stars, in person’s souls, bodies, and minds,
and most recently in social environments, roles, relationships, culture and societies.
Supernatural Explanations: The earliest explanations, going back centuries, relied
upon supernatural forces, believing unseen evil spirits or forces were responsible for
disruptive and harmful social behavior. Spiritual explanations lodged the cause of deviant
behavior in persons’ souls or in other-worldly causes. Religious explanations included the
influence of the devil or demonic possession which often led to community responses such
as exorcism rituals to rid the person from possession by the evil spirits. Before the age of
enlightenment, guilt was determined by trails by ordeal, battle, fire, or drowning based on
the belief that God would intervene to save the innocent and, therefore, only the guilty
Positivistic Explanations: Supernatural and pre-scientific explanations were
eclipsed during the age of enlightenment by naturalistic explanations which were based on
empirical evidence and were scientifically testable. They arose in different disciplines.
The Classical School: rational choice. One of the earliest approaches was the
“classical” school which viewed crime as the product of rational choices of individuals who
possessed free will. Rational calculations were made based on weighing various
pleasurable outcomes and their relative risks against painful ones. Individuals would seek
choices that would maximize their pleasure over possible pain that might result. This
approach was largely a humanistic effort to reform the harsh, brutal, arbitrary, and
excessive punishment of the times by calibrating and limiting punishment only to the point
that it would outweigh the pleasure derived by engaging in criminal behavior. The law
would fix the amount of punishment necessary to exceed the possible pleasure of
committing the crime and thus would deter crime.
This approach was not primarily oriented toward predicting or explaining
individual criminal behavior, since the factors which influenced the choice of criminal
behavior were never empirically examined. Why some individuals choose crime and not
others was not accounted for or explained. Also people did not always behave rationally.
This approach has been reconfigured today into “rational choice” theory and “deterrence”
theory, which do seek to make specific predictions about criminal behavior and are more
amenable to scientific testing.
Biological Explanations: In searching for causes of deviant behavior, especially
crime and mental illness, positivism first focused on biological explanations. Inherited
characteristics, biological abnormalities, body types, biochemical imbalances, defective
genes, etc., were all offered, at one time or another, as explanations of deviance. Mapping
of the DNA molecular structure has led to a resurgence of searches for biological factors
related to forms of deviance.
Psychological Explanations: Subsequent to rational choice and biological
explanations, the spotlight turned to psychological characteristics of individuals including a
wide range of psychological abnormalities. Feeblemindedness, low I.Q. scores, mental
illness such as psychosis or psychopathy, character disorders, sociopathic personalities, and
more recent personality characteristics such as impulsivity, ADD, irritability, lack of self
control, etc., have been offered as explanations of crime.
Sociological Explanations: The most recent wave of positivistic explanatory factors
has focused on sociological explanations examining: social forces, social structures,
socialization, impaired opportunities, deviant subcultures, and inequality, have gained in
importance in understanding deviant behavior. Each of these approaches also contains
different proscriptions for controlling or reducing deviance that are linked to their basic
The study of deviance can be traced to the very origins of sociology. Over a century
ago, Durkheim examined relationships between the organization of society and patterns of
suicide. Not only does the study of deviance have a long history in sociology, it also
spawned much empirical research and has been a rich source of theory in sociology. It has
also been a source of controversy.
Social Constructionism; An Alternative to Positivism: This perspective is not based
on the functional perspective in sociology described earlier, but is based on a school
described as symbolic interactionism. Deviance is not measured as departures from some
objective rules known as norms. Rather, norms must be understood as they are
constructed and applied in everyday interaction. Deviance is created by the reactions of
others in condemning an individual’s behavior or the individual. Deviance is constructed
by the reactions of people to the actions of individuals which gives that person a new
meaning, as deviant. Thus there is disagreement over what constitutes deviance and who is
Positivism versus Social Constructionism. Different perspectives are brought to
bear upon the study of deviance which leads to conflicting definitions about what
sociologists regard as deviant. For positivists many of whom are functionalists, deviance
refers to behavior which violates social norms. For social constructionists and labeling
theorists, deviance refers only to behavior which elicits social condemnation. Deviance
need not even involve rule violating conduct. Merely the possession of any attributes which
evoke social disapproval, such as being overweight, having a disability or even being a
certain ethnicity, age or gender can cause social condemnation. Social condemnation for
any reason can lead to an individual occupying a deviant status, which is the essence and
hallmark of deviance. Deviance, for constructionists, is not lodged in what the individual
does, but in how others in the group react to the individual.
Thus positivistic definitions focus on the conduct or behavior of the individual,
specifically violating norms, that makes them deviant. While constructionists do not focus
on the conduct of the individual but on how others react to the individual, as some may
violate norms but never get condemned and therefore, by definition, would not be deviant.
Their deviance is anchored in their status in the eyes of other group members. Some
persons experience condemnation for what they do and others for what characteristics they
may possess, which in both situations leads to social rejection and a state of deviance.
Conflict Theory: A third perspective, conflict/radical theory, contains elements of
both positivism and constructionism. It focuses on the power of individuals and groups to:
(a) define what is regarded as deviance, (b) to label others and to insulate themselves from
social condemnation, and, what differentiates radicals from social constructionists, on (c)
the connection of such power to economic and political structures in society. They use
structural explanations to account for societal reactions and the labeling process and the
power to designate what and who is deviant. Similar to positivistic functionalists, (d)
examine the role of economic structures, such as capitalism or social class, in generating
deviant conduct such as crime.
Positivism and social constructionism differ along several dimensions ( Thio, 2007:
Ch 1-3, and Goode, 2008: Ch 1- 2). Positivism views deviance as objectively real,
observable, scientifically measurable, and determined behavior. Deviants can be
distinguished from non deviants and the causes of the behavior can be identified.
Constructionists do not view deviance as objectively real, but relative to situations and only
what people label in that context. Deviance is subjective in that it is a mental construction
expressed in the form of a label. And lastly it is a volunteristic act of actors who have free
will and choice and therefore is not amenable to scientific rigor.
Thio (2006: Ch 1) has differentiated positivists from social constructionists in that in
positivism deviance is viewed is absolutely real, deviants can be distinguished from non-
deviants, deviance can be studied objectively by methods of science, and deviant behavior
is determined by other events. Constructionists believe deviance is relative and socially
constructed, exists in the meanings persons give their experiences hence is subjective not
objective, and people have free will and their behavior cannot be accounted for in strict
deterministic terms. Radical/conflict theorists define who is deviant in terms of conflict and
power. Deviance attain their position as an oppressed group from their lack of power and
the ability of the ruling class to define them as criminals in much the same way
constructionists approach the study of deviance. However, they view power and
oppression as realities, and seek to link power to economic and political structures and
oppression as an effort to sustain ruling class dominance in society, in the same way
positivists approach problems in deviance.
The perspectives differ in: (1) how to define deviance, (2) what is important to
explain about deviance, (3) what method to use to study deviance, and (4) what kind of
theory to employ in order to make sense of the phenomena. This will be explored in more
We shall now turn to examining the paradigms in sociology that give rise to the
different perspectives of studying deviance.
Cited in Merton (1968:49) as Feynman's remarks about the state of physics.
See Rubington and Weinberg (1977:15-46) for a detailed description of the various schools
There have been later attempts to revive the concept of social pathology and give it an
objective dimension. Rosenberg et al (1964) used the term to refer to social conditions, which
are nullifying and destructive of humanity. These can be objectively determined as
undesirable and painful states, and reliable evidence on their negative consequences for
humans in society can be established. "Pathological" situations are those of an especially
foreboding nature such as nuclear holocausts or death camps--crises of a different magnitude
than simple "deviance" or "dysfunction" might connote. Kavolis (1969) proposed
"destructiveness" as an objective basis upon which to redefine the concept of pathology.
Destructiveness is manifest in behavior damaging to life, health and sense of identity. Modern
efforts to define basic human rights by agencies like the U.N. fit this tradition. The discipline
of social psychology should seek objective indices of destructiveness and the characteristics of
social structure that produce pathology. In both of these approaches deviance might or might
not be pathological. Other sociologists take the position that the concept of pathology is value
laden and there can never be agreement on defined pathological states. For example, the
whole (society) may be healthy at the expense of the parts and vice versa. The overall society
can function effectively in war or in the production of goods while its members can be
subjugated or exploited. There also may be conflict in what is good for the persistence or
expansion of the system and that, which maximizes individual satisfactions. In society, unlike
biological organisms, the health or well being of one sector may be dependent on the ill health
of another. Few, if any, of society's actions benefits everyone in the society. There are always
conflicting interests, and the definition of normalcy depends on the perspective that is
applied. Those who benefit most by the existing social arrangements see persistence as a
value and therefore "normal" and disruptions as "pathological". Those who stand to benefit
from change see the existing system as "pathological". Since society can be organized in an
infinite number of ways, no one set of relations can be seen as necessary or "normal".
Later formulations of the social problems approach (Spector and Kitsuse, 1973:145-159)
focused solely upon the process of "problem defining" within the society. Troublesome
events that become identified as "problems" usually entail: (1) a violation of rules, (2) which
occur frequently enough to cause alarm, and (3) call for action to solve the problem. Thus the
concern has been shifted to how the "reaction" happened, although some attention is still
directed to how the problematic events that elicited societal concern occurred.
See Wrong, Dennis "Oversocialized Concept of Man" (1961:ASR 26,183-193) and Hirshi's
Control Theory ("Social Bond Theory" in Causes of Delinquency (1969) that argues deviance
results from the lack of bonds to society which permit inherent deviant impulses to be
See Becker (1963:4-8) for a discussion of these frameworks.
See Lindzey, Gardener (Editor) Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol II (1954:744) Addison-
Weley Publishing, Cambridge, Mass. See also David Gold.